My life so far has been a multitude of experiences: some amazing times, but also much pain and trauma. Even so, I can now say that I look forward to my future and through my adversity have learnt to grasp life fully, appreciating how far I have come and how far I still have to go.

Growing up

I was a healthy, happy little girl in early childhood; I was eight years old when my walking and balance began to deteriorate; I wasn’t walking straight and was constantly covered in bruises. My mum took me to the doctors, and finally, after five years when I was 13 my life changed forever, I was diagnosed with Friedreich’s Ataxia: a rare genetic condition that affects balance and speech.

At that time, I was very confused and didn’t fully understand my condition. My friends and family were incredibly supportive and kept me going through very dark periods. As a teenager I felt despair and no hope: I went to the lowest place possible with no fight left in me. But fight I did: I was still going to live my life and turn my pain and suffering in to something positive.

Social Barriers

When I permanently began to use a wheelchair at 19, I recognised the barriers I had to face as a disabled person in everyday life. I realised that these barriers were created by people in society who were ignorant about disability. In 2003, after many months of rejection whilst seeking employment, I found myself with two jobs and voluntary work at Scope through which I mentored disabled people, encouraging them to live independently. I also held disability training workshops for corporations and government organisations at the charity My Ways.

Employment, Volunteering and Education

Employment bettered my own self-esteem and I began to study, gaining a city and guilds teaching certificate 1 and 2 and a post graduate certificate in disability studies. I became self-employed with my own enterprise, Equal Equality, where I supplied training packages for large companies. Whilst undergoing this rewarding work I started to wonder whether this training could be used at schools to educate children of the obstacles faced by disabled people. I knew children would be more receptive to a game instead of a presentation, and an idea formed in my mind: one through which I could educate, inspire and entertain.

Removing Barriers

I created a game: Removing Barriers. In 2008 through The Prince's Trust Award I had my first copy printed professionally, which was very exciting and empowering. I was lucky to stumble across Dave Lupton (Crippen Cartoons), a talented artist and commissioned him to design the game. At my training days and workshops it became an instant success with children and adults.

After winning a holiday from the Jerry Farr Travel Fellowship (facilitated by Ataxia UK), on which I travelled to India, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand, I again proved to myself that even in such a variety of societies, barriers could be overcome. I returned with a new-found confidence and determination to get my game out there. I attained funding from Unlimited Awards, and from that was able to assign Focus Games: a company that specialises in developing board games for people in the health and social care sector. The team at Focus Games refined the game, and I’m delighted that it is now available for any individual or organisation to buy from their online store and my dedicated website: www.removingbarriersgame.co.uk.

Barriers are often overlooked simply because people don’t realise they exist – my game helps people think about those barriers within their communities. My vision has always and always will be to educate people: I wish to take my game as far and wide as possible by promoting it in the community and targeting disabled charities/ organisations and their trainers.

It has taken a long time to come to terms with my disorder and to feel a part of the society that has marginalised me, but my game has given my passion back for life and I fully believe in it. I aim to spread awareness of social barriers by helping as many people as possible to engage with my game – to help them take the lessons from a fun interactive experience into their lives so that they can bring Equal Equality to their communities.

Thank you for reading my story.

Toyah Wordsworth

 You can read Focus Games's Press Release for Removing Barriers here.